One Less Truck! Every Other Week Garbage Collection

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1947 garbage truck (municipal archives)

The Seattle City Council is authorizing a pilot program to test the idea of moving to garbage collection every other week.  The pilot program, which will be implemented for 800 customers in four neighborhoods from July through December, will examine what rate structure best rewards people for minimizing their garbage, while avoiding unwanted negative impacts.

Every other week garbage collection could provide one more incentive for waste reduction, cut garbage truck traffic in our neighborhoods by 20%, cut fuel consumption, greenhouse emissions, and air pollution by a corresponding 20%, and reduce overall system costs by $6 million annually.  If people can adapt to this change, the cost savings will be passed on to rate payers as the Council adopts new rates in the future.  Seattle is rightfully proud of our commitment to recycling and waste reduction.  We have adopted universal recycling and organics collections and dramatically reduced the amount of garbage we send to the landfill.  We’ve banned disposable items that have readily available substitutes, like Styrofoam takeout containers and plastic grocery bags.  We’re designing the rebuilding of our transfer stations to make it easy and convenient to recycle building materials and other items.  And we continue to work to find new ways to reduce garbage costs.

Since the Zero Waste Strategy was approved by the Council in 2007 we have accelerated our rate of progress.  Universal organics collection was a key step for single family residences, and we are now extending it to multi-family residences.  The things that actually have to go into the garbage can are down to a few kinds of plastics and some other items (like kitty litter and disposable diapers) that are pretty challenging to recycle.  Many customers, even those with the smallest garbage containers, either do not set out their containers every week or set them out half-empty.

The question that the pilot program will test is whether moving to every other week collection is possible for Seattle customers, and what rate structure will be most effective in preserving fairness and the incentive to reduce waste.  The 800 customers who will be enrolled in the pilot program will have an immediate rate reduction in their solid waste rate.  If they choose to increase the size of their can rather than increase their waste reduction efforts and make sure that they are using their recycling and organics cans to the greatest extent possible, they will pay a higher rate.

The pilot will test how many customers will increase the size the of their container and whether the rate structure makes a difference, if there are any negative impacts to customers and the neighborhood, and whether there is decreased waste as a result of implementing this change. 

We hope to learn whether we can implement such a program citywide.  If the pilot demonstrates that people can adapt to this change with little or no negative repercussions, then the City can proceed with implementation, and we can realize the benefits of reduced waste, reduced truck traffic, and reduced cost to ratepayers.

A number of other cities are experimenting with this collection model, but few have a population as committed to recycling and waste reduction as Seattle.  Because of that, we are hopeful that we may be able to implement one more step on the road to zero waste.